MOBILE, Ala. — The keepers of the NFL's No. 1 overall pick whistled and hollered, carrying on the all-star game practice without the quarterback expected to join their franchise.
No, Joe Burrow did not attend the Senior Bowl. LSU's Heisman Trophy winner and offensive MVP of the national championship game was not among peers like Oregon's Justin Herbert and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts — quarterbacks who worked with the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff this week at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Despite a late push by Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, Burrow opted to take a break from football and return home to Ohio.
MOBILE, Ala. — Stephen Sullivan quite literally didn't know how far he could spread his wings until he left college.
The Bengals staff wasn't completely surprised. The annual event started just a week after LSU beat Clemson 42-25 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, completing a 15-0 season that was the longest in school history.
Burrow's participation would have just been a bonus for the Bengals, an opportunity for the coaches to talk with him and get acquainted.
"But there's plenty of time for that," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "There's no rush. It was kind of a cherry on top if he felt like he was up to it, and totally understand (if) not. It's an NFL season he just played, so no big deal."
Callahan is plenty familiar with Burrow's production. His school-record 5,671 yards passing. His NCAA-record 60 touchdown passes. The 76.3 completion percentage that fell just half a percentage point shy of another NCAA record.
Callahan watched every game Burrow played after the Bengals finished the regular season with a league-worst 2-14 record in a 33-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 29.
"It was fun as a fan of football just to watch, to see him rise to the occasion every single week against top-flight competition," said Callahan, a former UCLA quarterback and the son of former NFL head coach Bill Callahan. "Every week, you'd watch him and be like, 'OK, this is going to be the week he's going to dip,' and it doesn't. 'Ehh, maybe it's this week,' and then he doesn't. He plays better and better and better. In fact, I'd say he probably was peaking at the last three games of the year."
Baylor coach Dave Aranda has hired away his first staff member from his former employer.
One play still sticks out the most: Burrow's third-quarter throw in the SEC Championship Game that solidified the Heisman Trophy. Backed up on his own goal line, Burrow evaded the same defender twice, rolled out to the sideline and hurled an impromptu pass to Justin Jefferson for a 71-yard gain.
In that play, Callahan said Burrow demonstrated he can produce an explosive play off-schedule, off-script in a high-pressure situation. Those are the impressive plays, the ones that show a certain player can "add a whole new dimension to an offense."
How do the Bengals evaluate a quarterback? Three main ways:
"He checks all those boxes," Bengals quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said of Burrow.
It began with an audacious promise from a still unheralded quarterback of an untried offense: The team would score 40, 50, even 60 points per game.
It's Burrow's accuracy on deep passes, Van Pelt said, that "really stands out." Burrow completed 60.71% of his passes of 16 yards or more, according to SECStatCat.com — a completion percentage that would have ranked 62nd nationally on all throws.
That kind of accuracy falls back on decision-making, Van Pelt said. It shows how Burrow isn't forcing the ball into bad situations, how he's able to throw receivers open when they're guarded tightly deep down the field.
"That's really what the game comes down to," Callahan said. "Everybody can throw. You make it to the NFL, they can all throw. ... The location to throw in the NFL is so important because the coverage is so tight. So if you miss a throw by six inches, a lot of times that's the difference between a pass breakup and a catch. So it's the timing of getting the ball when it's supposed to be there and then placing it where it's supposed to be placed."
MOBILE, Ala. — Lloyd Cushenberry III mulled over the NFL draft grade he received.
Those are the kinds of throws the Bengals coaching staff would have liked to see Burrow make in the Senior Bowl. But there's still more evaluation opportunities in the months leading up to the NFL draft on April 23 in Las Vegas.
The NFL combine runs from Feb. 23 through March 2 in Indianapolis. Callahan and Van Pelt said they're both likely to attend LSU's pro day, which is usually held on campus in late March or early April. Teams can even sometimes arrange a private workout.
Campus filled on the morning of the parade, the first of its kind in over a decade.
That's time enough for the Bengals to decide exactly how they'll spend the No. 1 overall draft pick, which presumably will be spent on a potential franchise quarterback. Cincinnati has no intentions to trade the pick away, according to an ESPN report, which would give them free rein to decide whether they'll bring an Ohio quarterback back home.
Just don't expect that to be the reason Cincinnati would pick Burrow.
"Guys have gone from California to New York and have been successful," Van Pelt said. "Guys have stayed in New York from New York and have not been successful. But he definitely will be familiar with the area, and I know they'll be excited if he does come to us."